I always like to attend the NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) College Fair every year here in Atlanta. It’s really convenient to evaluate and engage with multiple colleges all under the same roof. On previous years, I have attended these fairs to get additional insights as to how some of these colleges just do so many things better than other colleges. How do they manage to graduate larger percentages of students on time, send more students to graduate school, and maintain high employment rates after graduation?
This year, however, I wanted to find out something different: Do these colleges look at an applicant’s social media? I am a real fan of what I call the “hidden gems” (colleges that produce amazing results but may not be well-known) and I decided to take an opportunity and interview a few of these “hidden gems” and some other colleges that are very well-known. I conducted an informal poll of 20 colleges. Unless noted otherwise, I asked the same three questions to each college:
1. What is your name and what do you do at the college?
2. Tell me in three words what sets your college apart from the rest?
3. Do you look at a student’s social media when they apply?
The first 2 questions are ice breakers and it was interesting to see these college representatives distill their message in only three words. I think you can learn a lot about a college when you put them on the spot like this. The next question about social media got some very interesting responses. Here are the results below…
Danielle Luszczyk – Enrollment Management Counselor
Inclusive. Diverse. Welcoming
We do not look at social media. Once they are admitted we do look at it to get a sense if they are enrolling.
Brandi Ferrebee - Admissions Counselor
Worldly. Kind. Thoughtful
It's not generally something we look at. We might “Google” them if they have something unique. If they reach out. We will engage them.
Elizabeth Zucchero - Asst. Director of Admissions
Community. Engagement. Experience.
We don't look at it at all. But will engage if they engage back.
Madeline Brodeur - Admissions Counselor
Location. Opportunity. Innovation.
No. But if they engage us. We will engage them. If they just say Simmons College or tag us in a post, we’ll know about it.
Ben Wescott - Sr. Asst Director of Admissions.
Urban. Service-Learning. Sciency (Biology is their most popular major despite being a “liberal arts” college).
We do not look at social media unless you give me something to look at. We manage our enrollment yield with Facebook to get a sense if they are coming or if they need a call from us.
Will Canon. Enrollment Services
Community . Leadership . Academic Opportunity.
It's not something we don't look at. But it's not an active part of our interview process.
Tobin Birney - Asst Director of Admissions.
Significance. Engagement. Community or Rigor.
No. Not at all. But if they engage us, we will engage them.
Millsaps College - (one my unabashed favorites!)
Suzanne Glemot - Admissions Counselor.
Engagement. Achievement. Community
Not part of admissions decision. We do have social media channels if students want to reach-out.
Cindy Boyles. Asst Dir admissions. (only asked her the social media question since they were busy)
Not really. But exceptions are made if character or other concerns about an applicant are brought to our attention.
Emily Davis Hamre - Office of admissions.
Global leadership. Community. Intellectual Community.
If they engage us we will engage them. But we don't go through personal social media accounts.
Curtis Johnson - Admissions Counselor
Tradition. Opportunity. Domain.
Not initially. We do encourage engagement with our unique hashtags.
Michelle Stinson - Office of Admissions Representative
Family. Growth. Happiness.
We ask to engage them on Twitter for part of the application process. We still look at “old fashioned” channels. We might look if they mention us or tag us in a post.
Anonymous Admissions Representative (only asked her the social media question since they were busy)
Not. At all. Not one of our strengths
Shannon Williams - Admissions Counselors
Extraordinary. Caring. Inspiring.
We don't actively look. If we engage we’ll engage back.
Anonymous Admissions Representative (University policy requires prior approval before submitting a quote. We also just asked the social media question since they were very busy).
Depends on what they are applying for. We monitor what people say about us. If they engage us we will engage them.
Eric Ahlstrand - Asst Director of Admissions
Access . Authenticity . Curiosity.
Not actively. On Twitter, if they engage us, we will engage back.
Rebecca Cottingham - Regional Recruiter.
Community. Academic Excellence. Fun.
We don't go actively looking for students on social media. But engage us, we’ll engage back.
Nicole File – Alumni Volunteer and Representative
Leadership. Thinking. Creativity.
Nicole did not really know. However, Sweet Briar credits social media as helping rally the support they needed to keep their college open. I am willing to bet that this college has a deeper understanding of social media than most.
I want to make a note of some patterns that I saw.
1. Social media is private, or is it? Most colleges were adamant that they did not just randomly look at an applicants social media. They regard these posts as private and did not want to send the message that they were just looking at anything they wanted. However, many of these same colleges could not speak for everybody in the admissions department. I had a sense that the actual practice of social media review may differ from one representative to another within the same admissions office. Many of these colleges also conceded that they would look at a student's social media posts if such action was warranted. Basically, is there a bold claim or accomplishment on the application that warranted further social media review? Was there an anonymous tip to the applicant's character.
2. Most colleges are reactive. Almost every college stated that they will engage an applicant on social media if the applicant engages first. Every college I spoke to has an active presence on Twitter and Facebook. I think this is a great trend as social media becomes another outlet for two-way communication.
3. When you are accepted by a college, your social media is now fair game. Almost every college I surveyed undergoes a "gear change" where their social media interaction ramps-up when a student gets accepted. Some of the admissions directors I spoke to openly admitted to monitoring Facebook and Twitter posts as a way of managing enrollment yield. Basically, is the student going to show up? Some colleges will look at social media to see if accepted students are talking about their college or wearing their t-shirt. If not, maybe they'll get another call from the college.
4. Almost every college runs a keyword search of themselves on social media. This is where colleges are proactive. Colleges are obviously notified if they are mentioned or tagged in a social media post. Almost every college goes a step further and monitors key words so if they are mentioned by name, they will know about it. They want to know if someone is talking about them and if further notation or action is necessary.
5. There is an opportunity. I get the sense that social media is still a relatively new concept for the colleges. However, these new channels of social communication present a unique opportunity for students looking to get noticed by these schools. These colleges are definitely paying attention. I believe it's a direct channel of communication that should be used by students to engage colleges they want to learn more about. It's a great way to make a first impression. Most importantly, you can show the colleges that you are more than an application and a test score.